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Health Highlights: Oct. 15, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Bottled Water No Cleaner Than Tap Water: Study

Leading brands of bottle water in the United States contain many of the same contaminants as tap water, according to a study released Wednesday by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group.

The 10 brands of bottle water included in the two-year study were found to contain 38 impurities, including bacteria, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals, the radioactive element strontium and the pain reliever acetaminophen, the Associated Press reported.

"In some cases, it appears bottled water is no less polluted than tap water and, at 1,900 times the cost, consumers should expect better," said study co-author and environmental engineer Jane Houlihan.

While all the bottled water brands met federal health standards for drinking water, two of them violated a California state standard for chlorine. Those two brands were Sam's Choice sold by Wal-Mart and Acadia of Giant Food supermarkets.

These "alarmist" findings are based on the faulty premise that a contaminant is a health concern "even if it does not exceed the established regulatory limit or no standard has been set," Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, told the AP.


75 Million More People Went Hungry in 2007: UN

About 75 million more people joined the ranks of the world's underfed last year, making the goal of halving global hunger by 2015 "even more remote," the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said this week.

In 2007, higher food prices were a major reason why the number of malnourished people rose from 850 million to 925 million, said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, Agence France Presse reported.

Of the 75 million new people who were underfed last year, 41 million were in Asia and the Pacific, 24 million in sub-Saharan Africa, six million in Latin America, and four million in North Africa and the Middle East, the Rome-based agency said.

The FAO added that continuing increases in the prices of grains and oil probably mean that the number of underfed people worldwide will go up again this year, AFP reported.


Bayer Asked to Prove Aspirin Product's Cholesterol Claims

Drug maker Bayer is being asked by two U.S. lawmakers to explain why it defied U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendations in adding dietary health claims to Aspirin with Heart Advantage. The tablets contain a plant supplement called phytosterois, which Bayer claims lowers bad cholesterol.

On Tuesday, Democratic Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak, both of Michigan, sent a letter to Bayer that quoted an FDA advisory that "strongly recommends that firms refrain from marketing products that combine or co-package drug and dietary supplement ingredients," the Associated Press reported.

Such claims give the false impression that the FDA has evaluated both the drug and the supplement, but the FDA only regulates the drug, the advisory stated.

In their letter, the two lawmakers asked Bayer to provide all studies that show Aspirin with Heart Advantage helps lower bad cholesterol and protect against heart disease, the AP reported.


Economic Turmoil May Affect HIV Vaccine Research

Worldwide economic problems could lead to reduced AIDS research funding and add to the many difficulties hampering efforts to develop an HIV vaccine, according to leading scientists attending the international AIDS vaccine conference in Cape Town, South Africa. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

The U.S. government has cut its spending on AIDS research, and "the increases in the budget that we hoped for will not be forthcoming," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Associated Press.

He and others also said the global financial turmoil may cause cutbacks in AIDS research funding from philanthropic organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The new money worries heighten the sense of gloom caused by recent HIV vaccine research failures. For example, a recent study showed that a potential vaccine doesn't prevent infection and may actually increase the risk of contracting HIV, the AP reported.

It's impossible to predict whether an effective HIV vaccine will ever be developed, Fauci said.

"Will there be a guarantee that we will get a vaccine in the classical sense? Realistically, you can't say that. But that doesn't mean we are going to give up trying," Fauci told the AP.


Gas Stove Emissions Aggravate Children's Asthma

High indoor levels of emissions from unvented gas stoves can aggravate asthma among inner-city children, says a Johns Hopkins University study that included 150 Baltimore children, ages 2 to 6 years.

The researchers measured nitrogen dioxide levels in the children's homes and compared the intensity of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath among the youngsters, United Press International reported.

Asthma flare-ups were directly associated with high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the homes. Each 20-point increase in nitrogen dioxide levels led to 10 percent more days of cough and 15 percent more days with limited speech due to wheezing, the researchers found.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

"Because using stoves as heat sources is a hallmark of urban poverty, our study tellingly points to how profound and direct the effects of purely social and environmental factors can be on a child's health," lead researcher Dr. Nadia Hansel said in a news release, UPI reported.


China Recalls All Milk Made Before Sept. 14

All liquid and powdered milk made in China before Sept. 14 has been ordered removed from shelves and tested for the chemical melamine. It's the first time since the tainted dairy scandal erupted last month that the government has ordered a blanket recall of products.

"Regardless of the brand or the batch, they must be taken off shelves, their sale must be stopped," the official news agency Xinhua said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

The diary products will only be allowed back on store shelves after they pass quality tests and are labeled as safe, said Xihhua, which did not provide any more details or explain why the recall was taking place now.

Until this week, only some types of milk powder and milk had been recalled in mainland China, the AP reported. A Sept. 16 recall was issued for 69 batches of milk powder made by 22 companies and a Sept. 19 recall was issued for liquid milk.

The reason Sept. 14 was chosen as the cut-off date for the new blanket recall isn't clear, but a nationwide inspection of dairy-producing facilities that focused on milk-collecting centers was launched Sept. 15 by Chinese officials, the AP reported.

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Posted: October 2008